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Leafs in on Tavares, but where do they go if Plan A falls through?

June 24, 2018, 9:05 PM ET [2 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs and 30 other NHL teams began scrambling to contact pending unrestricted free agents just after Midnight in advance of the July 1 feeding frenzy.

Over the next seven days, the only teams that can make signings will be teams locking up their own free agents, as the Washington Capitals did with defenseman John Carlson on Sunday, locking up the 28-year-old to an eight-year max deal for $64 Million, which makes him the second-highest blueliner in the NHL.

The Leafs are putting out feelers towards a number of players, but the most impactful is their interest in Islanders center John Tavares. The 27-year-old superstar’s representatives held talks with New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello up through this weekend, but while he most likely is re-upping with the Isles, a small number of teams(San Jose, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Toronto) are expected to make pitches to the prize free agent at the offices of CAA in Los Angeles early this week.

New York is the only team that can offer an eight-year deal similar to Carlson to Tavares, but it is expected that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will be inventive in trying to woo the Mississauga native to play for his hometown team.

The Leafs with the increase of the salary cap to $79.5 Million have nearly $25 Million in cap space for the 2018-19 season and with such a large amount available, Dubas may offer Tavares the maximum amount allowable under the current collective bargaining agreement (20% of the cap = $15.9 Million) on a one-year deal.

The odds are low that Tavares will opt for a short-term option over the security of a long-term deal, but playing for a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup, which would stlll have the resources to add to their roster even after offering large sum and could conceivably offer a long-term deal after January 1 might be attractive.

One option that appears to be closing is willingness of veteran Joe Thornton to leave San Jose. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Sunday that the center and Sharks have mutual interests in getting a deal done and that it would not be contingent on whether GM Doug Wilson was unsuccessful in bringing Tavares to Northern California.

One avenues that Dubas did not close was the possibility of circling back on Tyler Bozak. TSN’s Darren Dreger indicated several teams had put in feelers on the veteran center, but that the Leafs are still in the mix.

It is expected that with Tavares, Paul Stastny and Bozak the top free agent centers this summer, that teams would be more than willing to offer up deals of three-to-four years for the 32-year-old, but that the Leafs would only offer a shorter term contract.

Bozak indicated at locker cleanout after the end of the season that he wants to stay in Toronto, but that would likely depend on their offer being competitive with other interested teams.

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